For the last few months, Red Sox fans have been living on the slim hope of Roy Oswalt. With the likes of Hiroki Kuroda, Edwin Jackson, and Paul Maholm picked up by the likes of New York, Washington, and Chicago respectively, Oswalt has become the last chance for Boston to make a free agency splash and bolster their thin rotation.
To put it mildly, Oswalt hasn't made it easy on us fans. While teams have dropped in and out of contention left and right, the Red Sox have been one of the constant presences in the talks--one team he wouldn't rule out, but never seemed terribly inclined to join. Meanwhile, Sox fans have watched spring training approach and finally arrive with a tentative 4-5 of a converting Daniel Bard and (possibly) Vicente Padilla.
For a typical team in a typical division this might not be so bad. There is, after all, a reason why average pitching has come at such a premium in recent years. Plenty of rotations even on contending teams have weak back ends. But for Red Sox fans it's not such an easy blow to take. After all, that strong front end requires a good year from the ever-inconsistent Josh Beckett (and, yes, 2012 is divisible by two) as well as a full year from Clay Buchholz and his bad back. Add to that the residual trauma from the pitching collapse of late last season, a stacked division like the AL East, and the admittedly spoiled reaction of a fan base to missing the playoffs for two straight years, and you've got a recipe for panic.
Today, however, there's a chance for us Red Sox fans to finally have our hopes fulfilled, as Roy Oswalt is expected to decide on a team for 2012. Unfortunately, smart money is on Roy Oswalt providing only closure and no comfort.
Between his bad back and an overall depressed market for mid-level players this year, Roy Oswalt hasn't had the rosiest of times with free agency. While there were talks early on of multi-year deals and salaries of $10 million or more, as the winter dragged on it became clear those weren't terribly realistic. As Hiroki Kuroda and Edwin Jackson found homes for $10 and $11 million respectively, Oswalt's bad back left him the odd man out facing a restricted market and reduced offers.
This was essentially the situation the Red Sox seem to have been depending on. With a supremely limited budget, the Sox have a price point and are sticking to it. Far from the $10 million that Kuroda and Jackson received, the Sox' offer has been reported to be in the neighborhood of $5 million. It's probably the best he's going to get these days, but unfortunately, it just doesn't seem likely that this will persuade Oswalt to come to the East Coast.
The unfortunate fact of the matter is that Roy Oswalt seems to have made his priorities clear, and they are geographic in nature. With a strong desire to play close to his Mississippi home, Boston seems like it would be just about the last team on his list.
Still, somehow they have managed to hang around, and frankly the other options for Oswalt are pretty terrible. The Texas Rangers have a rather full rotation, and don't seem to keen to offer Oswalt much at all. Meanwhile, the Cardinals can only promise him a bullpen spot, and are trying to offload salary to make an offer that would still likely fall well short of Boston's.
If this were a typical major league player, then I might not be so pessimistic about Boston's chances with the best offer both in terms of role and money. Unfortunately, Oswalt has been an ace, made All-Star teams, and competed for the Cy Young Award in years past. From 2007-2011, he earned over $50 million. He's at the point where a few million does not effect his quality of life nearly so much as his commute, if you will.
The Red Sox still have a shot at Oswalt, to be sure. There's a reason that they continue to be mentioned alongside Texas and St. Louis. But at this point we have to be mentally prepared to move on from our last hope and ready to accept the starting rotation with Bard, Padilla, and a half-dozen long shots competing for the final two spots. It's not ideal, but it's realistic, and with a little bit of luck, it could even work.